How much space do I really need?

Our biggest worry when we moved into this apartment was space. Will we have enough? Where was everything going to go?

We were moving from a two bedroom to a one bedroom apartment. And even though we had to admit, our two bedroom was filled with wasted space, we still fretted. As it turned out, we were able to fit everything into our one bedroom with no problem. (But what a moving day it was! We picked the rainest day possible. Flooding in the streets and all! Exciting!)

As American expats living in Asia we already had undergone the colorful adjustment of living in smaller spaces. I’ve heard friends compare apartments here to hotel or dorm rooms back in the States. Now, we aren’t living in Hong Kong cage homes or cubicles, but it’s safe to say that we hail from the land of the largest living spaces in the world.

Although, I know NYC has some crazy tiny apartments. My theatre friends had some claustrophobic stories of sharing space and existing in micro-conditions. Something about sitting on the toilet and stretching their legs and they’d be in the kitchen. Oh, and my friend M, lived in this weird constructed wooden bunk bed space within an apartment living room.

Chiang Mai studio computer setup
My studio apt in Chiang Mai (2010). Here is my on-the-floor-with-low-table-computer-set-up next to the bed. Yes, that is a basket of yarn. I know, I’m weird.

Generally speaking though, moving from America to SE Asia meant experiencing a big change in creature comforts and your escape-space. Typically, an apartment here is a studio apartment. And I’ve lived in them all: studios, one + two bedrooms and even a house. It’s rather amazing to see how couples squeeze into studios or even families in small spaces. (Back in Hawaii, we used to joke about extended Filipino families existing under one roof – insane! But not really considered the price of rent in Hawaii.)

It’s good to see then that this minimalism trend has taken off because with paring down unnecessary junk, comes downgrading from larger homes to more modest spaces. You know, I can’t see the appeal of living in a 4000+ square foot home. Sure, you feel rich, but whenever I’ve been in large homes I just think about all the cleaning (because I’m a cleaner) and my eyes roll back – then I faint. And I’m way too private to have someone clean my home for me.

Even my mom (who cleaned hotel rooms) urged me to get a cleaner when I lived in my “cat cave house” in the bamboo woods. I couldn’t. I suffered through sweeping all the leaves on the back patio I never used and scrubbed it Cinderella-style after the rainy season slime took hold. And even though I bought a vacuum to deal with the cat hair (and ants!), it was a lot of upkeep.

Dear sweet Romeo, in cat heaven, walking on that damn deck.
Dear sweet Romeo, currently in cat heaven, walking on that damn deck that I swept every frickin’ day. (Chiang Mai, 2011)

Our latest place is an incredible time-saver when it comes to cleaning. I hardly have to do anything now. My procrastinating days are dwindling down!

But I think another deal sealer has got to be the $$$. Normally, you save money when you move into a smaller space. And since we were so worried about this space, I converted the meters to square feet to discover we are roughly in a 500 sq. ft. apt. We don’t have a large deck or patio, but the balcony is large enough for a couple of chairs to look out and for our love of plants. The deck wraps around to the front door and because we are on the second floor, we get to watch the sunbathers by the pool in neighboring hotel. Peeping Toms!

I feel like it’s my reminder that we live in a tourist destination. Seriously though, I think the lanai (Hawaiian word) helps the space to not feel boxed in. As does being a block from the river. I suppose that is how those city dwellers make do, they get out of their shoebox apartments and take in some wider spaces.

It makes me appreciate how the other half lives though. I’ve been in enough apartments where I’m looking down at said-shoeboxes marveling at how little they can get by with. All of this is interestingly made bearable by technology. I mean, how much space do you really need to use your laptop, smartphone or watch TV?

Cuenca apt in guest house 2010
This bizarre number was in a guesthouse in Cuenca, Ecuador (2010). I lived there temporarily. It was freezing and yes, that paint job was something to behold.

When I lived in the States and we would take our evening walks, one of my favorite things to do was look in those glowing windows to see what families were up to. Space has tendency to dictate how we spend our time and with who. It can bring us together or give us our personal space.

How much space do you need?

When the power goes out in Thailand

When the power goes out in Thailand

THAT’S a fire. When should I panic? I will panic now. [Chiang Rai, 2015]
I’m not entirely sure what causes a power line to catch on fire, in the rain, on the first day of a major Thai holiday, but it did right at our apartment.

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12 things I’ve learned from traveling around Thailand

Bangkok wires
A bundle of joy [Bangkok, 2015]
Recently I’ve been traveling around Thailand and it’s driving me batty because I’m such a homebody, but I love seeing new places, too. I know, I’m so complicated. And even though I no longer live in Chiang Mai, I’ve had to return there several times to go to Chiang Dao, Ubon Ratchathani, Lamphun and then I went to Bangkok. So, here’s this month’s “12 things” list.

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Chiang Rai: First Impressions

Near the Buddha Cave temple, Chiang Rai, 2014

I underestimated how much my life would change. Part of this had to do with not knowing how my life would change. Nevertheless, I tried to guess.

Originally, I thought my biggest adjustment would be down-shifting from busy Chiang Mai to quiet Chiang Rai, and while that is true, there is so much more to it than that.

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DinDee Cafe and CMU Art Center

If you are perchance wondering where the Japanese hippies hang out, you’ve stumbled upon the right place. DinDee Cafe is the only mudhouse cafe in Chiang Mai (as of this date), and is a lovely place to eat before heading over to the CMU art center gallery (free!) to check out the latest exhibition, or before Saturday rooftop movie nights (free!).

Located at the CMU Art Ctr parking lot. From Suthep, turn on Niminhaemin and take the first left.
Located at the CMU Art Ctr parking lot. From Suthep, turn on Niminhaemin and take the first left.

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Salad Terrace (from farm to fork)

I have my friend JP to thank for organizing both events (farm & fork) because I don’t think there are many folks who have had the opportunity to see where a restaurant’s food originates from. (Except maybe the people at the Food Network) Admittedly, I don’t know much about hydroponic farming, but I knew Salad Terrace‘s owner Khun Lek was going to give us a little tour of his farm. I was looking forward to it as I like “behind the scenes” stuff/books/stories.

According to the wiki, “Hydroponics is a subset of hydroculture and is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil.”

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The Chinese in Chiang Mai

My coworkers were getting fired up about the Mainland Chinese again.

“One of them got caught defecating in the moat.”

“They also got in trouble for shitting in the hallways at a kanatoke (Thai dancing show).”

“I almost ran one over! They just stand there waiting to get hit!”

“I was in an airplane with mostly Chinese tourists. They were so loud! How do they live with themselves?”

“Oh, I know!” I piped up, “I’m half Chinese and I have to live with myself every second of the day!”

The movie that started it all…(it’s like the American movie Hangover, but instead they wake up in Thailand!)

Ahhh. The Chinese. Topical.

Every Chiang Mai expat likes to have their say about the Chinese tourists invading the Rose of the North (including me). Everyone has a story of a run-in, a sighting, an experience of the rude and “situationally unaware” Chinese tourist defecating here or there, driving (or weaving) like this and like that, standing in the middle of the roads, causing traffic problems, and paying outrageous red truck prices so the driver unloads all of his previous passengers to accommodate his better paying customers.

And if you are an expat who lives in a guesthouse? Oh, ho, ho! Then you’ve already experienced the door slamming, the non-stop knocking and yelling that the Chinese are famous for doing.

I’ve heard a couple of well-meaning folks warn against racism towards the Chinese, but this latest conquest has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with behavior.

As an American, I think we take for granted (and easily forget) just how much of a “melting pot” the US is. Sure, some places are rather white, but overall, the United States has an ongoing tradition, a background, nay, a backbone built on diversity, and more diversity.

China, on the other hand, is a ridiculously massive country of one culture – one people. It’s a monoculture. Add to that, the Great Firewall of China (China’s Internet Censorship aka the Golden Shield Project), and you’ve got yourself a very, very, insulated country, culture and people. So it is of little wonder, they are making the news with their “acceptable over there, but what the hell are you doing over here” behavior.

I remember asking my students, “What is the biggest problem Thailand faces today?” Politics was the most popular answer, but the Chinese was one, much to my amusement. Apparently their special way of driving was driving this particular student right off the cliffs of insanity.

Yet today, as I was combing Warorot for a mosquito killing racket, I encountered a different reaction. First of all, I was getting discouraged, I had no idea where I could find one of those stupid things, but I knew it could be found here. CM Plastics was out of stock and then this kind woman asked in Thai, Can I help you? I quickly spied the holy grail of mosquito killers and as I made my purchase, she asked if I was Chinese. I said, My father is Chinese. (I am often asked about my nationality and ethnicity.) She pointed to herself, a big smile on her face, as if to say, Me, too.

The thing about all this What Did The Chinese Do Now chatter and chinwagging, is it reminds me that the Chinese live in a protected, insulated and cut off world. This doesn’t make what they do okay or right. I’m not making an excuse here. Instead, I’m suggesting we use the Chinese behavior as a red light warning against our own instances of insulation.

When we believe that all Chinese are this way, when we tout our over-bloated knowledge from our small corner of our expat city, when we believe we are automatically right, and whenever we forget to use our senses for more than seeing, we have become insulated.

The Chinese tourists feel justified in what they do because it’s all they’ve ever known. I just hope to remember to not feel so smug, justified and self-righteous in my everyday life, because chances are someone is watching, sharing it with their friends, and asking, “How does she live with herself?”